The College of Charleston’s renowned International Piano Series (IPS) lost its founder and artistic director, Enrique Graf, last year after the professor resigned amid allegations of sexual abuse. But IPS is leaderless no more: the school has recently hired Ran Dank, an Israeli pianist, as the new IPS artistic director and director of the music department’s piano studies program. Dank’s appointment will mark a return to normalcy for the IPS, as last year’s season, which, although quite strong, was hurriedly put together by music department chair Edward Hart and two of his colleagues.
Dank is a graduate of Tel Aviv University and Juilliard, where he studied with the legendary pianist, teacher, and Avery Fisher Prize-winner Emanuel Ax. At age 32, Dank has already racked up an outstanding resume. In addition to being a laureate of international piano competitions, including the Hilton Head, Sydney, Cleveland, and Naumburg competitions, he has performed at the Chopin Festival in Warsaw, Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, and the Kennedy Center, among others. He has also soloed with many American and Israeli orchestras.
Hart and his colleagues were already impressed by these accomplishments, but Dank made an even stronger impression at his audition and interview. “Of course, we were not surprised with his fantastic playing, as we had heard recordings and seen some of his concert videos,” Hart says. “We were very happy to learn that he is also a true intellectual, well-read, multilingual, thoughtful, and conversant on many topics, musical and nonmusical. Simply put, he is a genuine artist/scholar.”
Although Dank will continue to focus on his own performing, he’s looking forward to expanding his scope of practice at the college. “I think piano [at the college] has been kind of behind, especially the last couple of years, and my job is to make it blossom. It’s exciting,” he says. “It means bringing in a lot of new young players, a lot of recruiting, and really reestablishing the college as a piano institution.”
In addition, he’ll be responsible for bringing in world-class pianists each year for the International Piano Series, which not only involves public concerts but also a program of master classes for CofC students. He started working on this season several months ago before his contract with the school even took effect, and the lineup — Beth Levin, Stephen Beus, and Anne-Marie McDermott — was settled shortly afterward. Dank will open the season himself with a concert on Sept. 30.
It’s a demanding position to be in, especially as this is Dank’s first full-time faculty post, but that’s a big part of why he accepted the job. “The challenge of rebuilding the department and the kind of carte blanche I got here was really enticing,” he says. “The correlation with IPS was also exciting. I enjoy putting things like this together. And beyond everything, more than everything else, was the town itself and the people. I had a fantastic first impression.”
Up until joining the college, Dank followed the path that many concert pianists do: tour, make the rounds of the festival circuit, and teach on the side.
And he’s not just a solo act. Dank’s wife, Soyeon Kate Lee, is also a pianist, and the two regularly perform around the country as a duo. The couple have been widely lauded for their work together, most notably by the New York Times for their world-premiere performance of Fredric Rzewski’s Four Hands and for their interpretation of The Rite of Spring.
As a solo artist, Dank is known for playing difficult works by virtuosi like Chopin, Liszt, and Prokofiev. He’ll play pieces by two of those composers, Chopin and Liszt — including Liszt’s Sonata in B Minor, one of classical music’s most difficult and virtuosic piano sonatas — on Sept. 30, when he makes his Charleston debut. He’ll also perform works by Beethoven. “What I’m trying to do with the recital is track the evolution of piano playing, starting with Beethoven through Chopin and Liszt,” Dank says. “Beethoven was one of the first virtuosos, but his style was strictly classical in many ways. Chopin, he was a poet of the piano. He invented a completely different language of the piano. And when you get to Liszt, you’re talking about maybe the greatest virtuoso who ever lived.”